Memorial Day is upon us, and before we fire up our backyard grills and celebrate the unofficial start of summer, we remember that this is the time to reflect on all of those who have died serving America. But not all war heroes are humans. Animals have been part of military service since ancient times. Here are 11 of the most amazing finned, four-legged and winged American animals who have served alongside brave men and women who died for their country.
Marko the German Shepherd served as a Pentagon Force Protection Agency Dog for 11 years. After his service, Marko retired and now lives with his handler, Sgt. Isaac Hoopii. Although he is a big couch potato these days, Marko still shows off his skills at demos every once in awhile.
In 2003, Zak, a 375-pound California sea lion, was trained by the Navy to find swimmers near piers and ships or objects that were considered suspicious or a threat. Animals in Zak's program were all trained at the Navy's Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. Sea lions like Zak love action and having a purpose. They can even cuff a potential waterborne intruder!
When Nova was at the animal shelter, the staff spotted the smart dog's obsession with searching for things. They suggested for her to become trained as a bomb-sniffing hound. She then joined the Townsville-based 3CER and was a popular addition to the task force in Afghanistan. A month before she died, Nova took part in Operation Baz Panje, one of the largest air mobile missions in Uruzgan. The soliders were heartbroken when she passed away, but held a ceremony in her honor.
K-DOG THE DOLPHIN
Not only are dolphins one of the smartest animal species in the world, they are also naturally reliable and trustworthy. The Navy depends on dozens of dolphins to help out in the sea. This bottlenose dolphin named K-Dog works with his handler Sgt. Andrew Garrett in the Arabian Gulf. Because dolphins have keen sonar (they can discern a quarter from a dime when blindfolded), they are invaluable minesweepers.
9-year-old retired Army dog Gabe can finally sit back and relax after spending much of his life looking for explosives, weapons and ammo in Iraq. He has won three Army Commendation medals, an Army Achievement medal, and almost 40 coins of excellence for his work. During his 170 combat patrols, Gabe helped make 26 weapons finds, according to a story on the U.S. Army website. Gabe is up for this year's Hero Dog Award too.
PFC. HAMMER THE CAT
Sgt. Rick Bousfield holds Pfc. Hammer, the Iraq-born cat that joined his infantry company during their deployment in Iraq. The Executive Committee of TheraPet, Inc. voted to award Pfc. Hammer its first Honorary Membership "for services rendered to our servicemen and women serving in Iraqi Freedom." Hammer spent the first nine months of his life in Iraq and used to make supply runs with the soldiers serving in the war. While the soldiers kept Hammer safe inside their body armor, Hammer kept the soldiers safe from the mice in the mess hall.
Military working dog Desant, 100th Security Forces Squadron, takes a breather during his retirement ceremony at the military working dog facility. Desant served for eight years and worked over 9,000 working hours, 2,500 of which were in explosive detection. Desant served his country and the U.S. Air Force by conducting 10 Secret Service missions in support of former presidents, vice-presidents and a first lady in Northern Ireland, Romania, and all over the United Kingdom.
Without the help of their brave horse soldiers, the first troops on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11 wouldn't have survived. Special Operations Forces hadn't ridden horses into combat in nearly a century. During their service, the horses carried soldiers through some of the most dangerous secret missions. According to one soldier, the horses were an extension of their family in every sense of the word.
Sarbi, the 10-year-old Labrador-Newfoundland mix, earned himself a Purple Cross after serving as a bomb-sniffing dog in Afghanistan. Sarbi went missing for more than a year during his service. Luckily, 13 months later, an American special-forces soldier found the brave dog in a remote part of the province.
CHER AMI THE PIGEON
During World War I and World War II, the U.S. military enlisted more than 200,000 pigeons to help relay messages. Cher Ami was one of them. During his service, he flew 12 important messages before being struck by enemy fire. Although he was shot in the breast and leg, he was able to deliver the message, which was found dangling from his battered leg. Because of Cher Ami, 194 soldiers were rescued in Major Charles Whittlesey's "Lost Battalion." Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre award for his heroic service and was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame.
Sergeant Stubby, who lived from 1916–1927, was the most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat. Stubby served with the 102nd Infantry, 26th (Yankee) Division in the trenches in France for 18 months and participated in four offensives and 17 battles. The dog became a lifetime member of the American Legion and later became Georgetown University's mascot. In 1921, Stubby was awarded a gold hero dog's medal that was commissioned by the Humane Education Society.